Nova Scotia’s energy plan is none of Oliver’s fracking business

The province is making a much-needed transition to low-carbon energy sources.

Nova Scotia’s decision to continue a provincial moratorium on fracking for natural gas has drawn fire from federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who called it a step back from “responsible” resource development.

As seen in iPolitics.
As seen in iPolitics.

Provincial Energy Minister Andrew Younger, meanwhile, insists his government is engaged in “responsible and sustainable development”. They can’t both be right.

Let’s compare Nova Scotia’s stance to the federal government’s own Responsible Resource Development plan, introduced by Mr. Oliver in 2012. The plan has many worthwhile objectives: improving the review process for natural resources projects, strengthening environmental protections and enhancing consultations with Aboriginal Peoples.

The plan commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by the consumption of oil, gas and coal — all natural resource products. Although the plan doesn’t say so, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is needed to mitigate damage from climate change. Scientists have argued that, without appropriate action, climate change will lead to food and water shortages, extinctions, health threats and economic losses. Mr. Oliver himself has acknowledged that climate change is “a serious issue”.

Consistent with the plan, the federal government agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Copenhagen Accord. According to an analysis by Environment Canada we, as a country, are on track to blow our 2020 emissions targets by a wide margin — chiefly because of continued growth in the oil and gas sector. The Responsible Resource Development plan says “the Government of Canada also intends to develop regulations in the oil and gas sector”. This is a promise that has been carried forward by five successive Environment ministers — with nothing to show for it.

How can we meet the need to reduce greenhouse gases in support of Mr. Oliver’s plan and Canada’s Copenhagen commitments? It should be fairly obvious to everyone by now that building new pipelines and refineries and encouraging the rapid expansion of the oilsands — which can only add to Canada’s emissions problem — is the worst possible approach. Mr. Oliver’s continued advocacy of new fossil fuel development while praising his own government for its “world class environmental protection” is another fine example of climate-change doublethink: You just can’t have it both ways.

Instead, we should — consistent with the Responsible Resource Development plan — pursue the many low-carbon energy opportunities available to Canada by virtue of our abundant natural hydro, solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and nuclear resources. We also need more research into energy storage and efficiency solutions. Investing in these areas now, instead of locking ourselves long-term into expanded fossil fuel infrastructure, will allow us to sustain our standard of living as the world shifts to a low-carbon future.

That’s the responsible thing to do — and it’s what Nova Scotia is doing. The province is on track to have 25 per cent of its energy provided by renewables by 2015; its aim is to increase that share to 40 per cent by 2020. If all provinces could do the same, Canada’s greenhouse gas commitments would be met.

More and more of Nova Scotia’s energy needs will be served by a mix of wind, solar and tidal power. Hydro energy will be imported from Newfoundland via the Maritime Link, providing a boost to the regional economy. Programs have been instituted to encourage community-based renewable projects. Nova Scotia is also a recognized leader in energy efficiency.

Nova Scotia has a good thing going. Mr. Oliver should pay a visit and learn something, rather than sniping from a distance. That would be the responsible thing to do.

Thomas J. Duck is a professor of physics and atmospheric science at Dalhousie University and a fellow of the Broadbent Institute.

The subtitle for this story did not appear in the original.

(Updated 15 September 2015)